Sunday, February 06, 2005


Juan Cole vs. Jonah Goldberg

MC Goldberg

It began with this article on where Goldberg chided Cole for saying the 1997 Iranian elections were more democratic than the recent Iraqi elections. Cole responded the next day beginning by saying Goldberg should not comment on Cole because Cole was an expert who could read Arabic.

I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can't read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq's neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg's opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not.
I will comment on this shortly. First, the back and forth on this has been very entertaining. First Goldberg responds to Cole's rebuttal on NRO's The Corner. (Scroll up to see this controversy unwind. Goldberg quite correctly labels it as "piling on") Goldberg compares Cole to the Sovietologists (read Soviet apologists) who despite their intense knowledge of the Soviet peoples could not see how rotten the state had become. Then James Wolcott jumps into the fight trying to kick Goldberg when he thinks he is down. Goldberg dissects, destroys, humiliates Wolcott on the Corner. Pick your verb, it is not pretty but it is funny. Too bad Goldberg can't rap I think he would give Eminem a run for it.

Now back to Cole's criticism of Goldberg's credentials. There is no doubt that Cole is an expert on the cultures of Middle East. But that does not make him an expert on politics and that is what the elections were all about. Cole's criticism is based on the idea that it is important to have a deep understanding of Iraqi society. I don't think it is because I am working on the assumption that the Iraqi people want self-government. The desire for self-determination is cross cultural and reflects the human desire to be free. You may argue that the human desire for security is higher and, on occasion, I would agree with you. But, as quaint as it may sound, democracy has taken root very easily in different human societies and I see no reason why it should not in the Middle East. If Cole thinks so little of the Iraqi people as to not be optimistic about this new democracy's chances of survival I would have to question whether he has any respect for the people he has dedicated his life to studying.

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